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Portugal Youth Development - Dear Player

Dear Player,

I am reaching out to you regarding youth soccer training programs and academies throughout Portugal, which I believe could be a big stepping-stone to playing in a professional environment and to hopefully become one of the world’s best players. In this report, I analyze top Portuguese clubs and academies to gain critical insight on how they develop youth players into becoming some of the world’s best players: with the purpose of helping you identify which clubs and programs could be best for you and your family.

Background Information

Young talented players, such as yourself, in today’s modern game are constantly looking for the best ways to train. Yearning for the secret formula for how to ensure they will succeed and make it to the next level in their footballing careers. For some, this next level is earning a starting place within their club team or academy. For others it could be making a college program or the ultimate dream of becoming a professional player. It is true that in order to achieve these goals, players may need a certain level of skill/athletic latent ability that they may be naturally born with. However, much of what goes into making professional players is how they are developed throughout their youth career.

When examining the countries that manage to develop elite players at consistent levels, there are several that boast impressive records. Of course, the major five European countries such as Spain, England, France, Italy, and Germany are all producers of the world’s top players. But one country that has an extremely impressive resume, despite being far smaller in size and population, is Portugal.

Portugal was never considered a huge player in world football, that is until 2004 when Jose Mourinho took his FC Porto side on an impressive UEFA Champions League run where they won one of world football's most prestigious trophies. This was thought to be one of the defining events that put Portuguese clubs, players, and coaches on the radar. Since this time Portuguese clubs FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica have combined for well over $1.3 billion in revenue purely from selling players. Along with that, Jose Mourinho has gone on to be one of the top managers in the world, winning league titles in England, Italy and Spain and several European titles as well. On top of these accomplishments, Portugal also went on to win the European Championship in 2016, defeating the heavily favored French in a dramatic final. And of course, who could forget the crown jewel of Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo. Thought by many to be one of the greatest footballers of all time, only to be rivaled in the conversation by the magician Argentine, Lionel Messi. Ronaldo has elevated football in countless ways, as he shatters record after record. His success also pays tribute to the impressive systems in place in Portugal and leads the world to constantly be on the lookout for the “next Cristiano”. So how does this relatively “small” country continue to produce endless talent at such consistent rates?

The Process

To understand this, we must examine Portugal's youth academies. Specifically, top Portuguese clubs such as Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica and analyze how they go about producing their players. The first thing to understand is that these clubs fully recognize their current role in world football. They know they simply cannot compete with the likes of the "big European 5", purely on the stance of television deals and population, the money just isn’t there. Therefore, they decided to make it their primary goal to produce top level talent at a very young age, develop them efficiently and sell these players into the big leagues at a hefty price. Then from doing so they can reinvest their earnings and continue producing elite players, and coaches. It all begins with preparing their youth academy to be top level professionals.

This process begins in the academies, by identifying highly technically skilled players at a very young age. Once youth players reach a certain age, the club decides whether they see the potential for the player to become a professional that can earn minutes in a senior team and/or perhaps eventually sell to turn a profit. From even the early ages of 6, players spend every day training and preparing for that opportunity. The clubs invest colossal amounts of resources to ensure these players are receiving the best possible training methods and to create an environment that breeds and demands success. It all begins with individual development. This means technical, physiological, mental, and tactical development of the individual player. The club's main priority is on developing players in every aspect. Each player is watched and analyzed constantly with the idea of promoting positive growth in a healthy manner. Throughout their individual training every touch, pass, highlights, and mistakes are seen and taken note of. Then players work in the classroom on tactics of the game. They must understand the roles of their position in the team, and the system in which they are playing. This means countless hours of studying to improve what is referred to as their football IQ. Fitness and strength are the next areas of importance. All players have specific weight and training programs that are fine tuned for their bodies and positions that they play. This ensures they are at the peak of their physical abilities. Moreover, the players also work with sports psychologists to ensure they have the proper mentality to perform under these developmental environments. These are children and teenagers that understand what it takes to become a professional and sacrifice what is required for the shot of doing so for their own love of the game. It is estimated that these kids spend well over 8 hours a day training, for years until they get their shot to prove themselves.

As these youth players continuously improve their individual abilities, they also are going through team training sessions. Depending on the players size and ability, the club will shift them around to different age groups to ensure the player is being challenged properly. For example, players that may be bigger and stronger will often be placed in older age groups to avoid them using this advantage as a crutch later in their career. The next big step is for players to impress the coaching staff enough to earn a spot on the club's Senior B squad (reserve squad). This gives the player an opportunity to gain critical experience in the lower divisions of Portuguese football and further prepares them for the senior team. Then, if the player does well enough with the reserves, they will be called up to the first team. From this stage, players will train and play with the first team until they are sold to bigger clubs. For many players, this is as high as they will ever go in the world of football. And this is nothing to be taken lightly. Playing on the first team of these clubs is a massive accomplishment, and a very high level of football. However, for the elite few that stand out, there is the chance to be sold to some of the top clubs in the world. As we look at the list of some top players that have come from these clubs, the names are truly impressive.

Sporting Lisbon


FC Porto

Bruno Fernandes (Portugal)

Renato Sanches (Portugal)

Francisco Conceicao (Portugal)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)

James Rodriguez (Colombia)

Raphinha (Brazil)

Ruben Dias (Porgual)

Alex Sandro (Brazil)

Luis Figo (Portugal)

Joao Felix (Portugal)

Luis Diaz (Colombia)

Eric Dier (England)

Angel DiMaria (Argentina)

Bernardo Silva (Portugal)

Luis Nani (Portugal)

Nuno Mendes (Portugal)

Andre Silva (Portugal)

The Outcome

This is the outline to produce players for these prolific Portuguese clubs. It has been proven time and time again, as players that are sold often impress at top clubs all around Europe. What may surprise many is the emphasis that is placed on producing not only top players, but professional and respectful individuals. These Portuguese clubs feel it is extremely important for their players to be able to fit into new squads well and handle themselves respectably. For this reason, these clubs spend a great amount of time molding and guiding these young athletes to become well rounded professionals on and off the pitch. This is also to ensure that the player they are selling has the highest chance of success once they are sold. The life of a professional footballer is not for the faint hearted. These players may be sold to various countries where they don’t know anyone, or the language, and they are expected to perform at elite levels and are not allowed outside distractions or stress which can influence their play on the field in a negative manner. This in turn requires individuals with great mental strength and an ability to not get too “caught up” in things outside of their control.

Throughout this entire process, Portuguese clubs seem to have perfected their systems of producing young elite players. With world football constantly having more investment from millionaire owners and sponsors, these clubs are becoming more financially stable. Furthermore, as they look towards the future, they begin to consider the possibilities of transitioning from being a selling club, to having the confidence in their academies to hold on to this talent and push to be one of the top clubs in Europe and in the world. These academies such as Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto are all highly suitable options for the training and playing opportunities you are seeking. The programs the Portuguese have set in place for their youth programs is undeniably effective and we will continue to see their influence in the years to come.

Big shoutout to Ryan Kennedy and Jorge Maldonado for their key roles in this report! Thank you!

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